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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 February 2008, 00:14 GMT
Chinese New Year far from home
By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Guangzhou

Zhang Dongshen
The only way Zhang can share in his family's New Year is over the phone
Firecrackers sound in the dark alleyways of Guangzhou.

Dressed in his best clothes, Zhang Dongshen is on his way to a party.

He picks his way through the piles of red, spent firecrackers - it's Chinese New Year and he's far home.

In two tiny cramped rooms, we find friends from Zhang's home village - fellow migrant workers - who are stuck here too for the new year.

They sit around, dressed in their best, drinking tea and watching TV.

For days, Zhang waited at the Guangzhou railway station, to see if he could begin the two day journey back to his family home in Zhang You township, in the eastern Sichuan province.

He works in construction, and the higher wages of Guangzhou have meant this has become his temporary home for the past 10 years.

Cancelled holidays

Once a year, he gets time off to see his family, but China's unusually severe weather in recent weeks put paid to those plans.

"I couldn't go back, I had to get my train ticket refunded. Lots of people couldn't go back this year," he explained.

A total of 12m people are in Zhang's position and have not returned home.

I can only call home to keep close to my family
Zhang Dongshen

China's transport system was overwhelmed by unusually fierce snowstorms and freezing rain, just when the country was heading home for its most important annual holiday.

It is the first time Zhang Dongshen hasn't made it back for the festival.

"At home we could have gone to the temple and the park with my family," he said. "But I can't go back because of the snowstorms. So I can only call home to keep close to my family.

"I'm doing okay, so they don't need to worry. I'm working hard over here to make money for them."

Zhang works long hours; time off is a rare luxury. Stranded in Guangzhou, he and his friends considered going to the zoo, but it was too expensive.

"I could have bought some clothes for that price," he said.

Free for a walk

So instead they go for a walk - that costs nothing.

The cramped passageways of the neighbourhood are very lively for this time of year - most of the people who live here are migrant workers. They haven't been able to make it home to Hunan and Sichuan.

For a good number of them, it'll be a full year before they get to see their families again

Group of migrants having a meal in Guangzhou
Tastes from home offer some creature comforts to those stranded

Jin Xia, a cleaner, has only been here a few months, but is already missing her daughter terribly.

"She sent me a text message, wishing mummy and daddy a happy and healthy new year," she said.

"I don't dare to call her. If I did, I'd start crying. I can't bear to leave her. I haven't left her side in 11 years.

"So all I could handle was to send her a text message back."

A year of plenty

At night, the friends seek out some home comforts in a meal - spicy food from Sichuan.

A special fish is ordered; according to custom, eating it now will ensure a plentiful year ahead.

Zhang Dongshen and his friends are making the best of it.

"It's not so bad, I've got my fellow villagers here to spend the new year with me," he explains.

"It's pretty good. We eat, we walk, it's okay... Let's drink!"

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